EAST CHICAGO | The East Chicago Federation of Teachers, Local AFT 511, posted a billboard prominently Monday at the corner of Indianapolis Boulevard and Columbus Drive saying they don't support the school superintendent.
For several years, many teachers, school employees and residents have said they are dissatisfied with the performance of School City of East Superintendent Michael Harding. On Monday, the teachers did more than bring the issues up at a School Board or community meeting. They paid for a billboard, which is near the shuttered West Side Junior High School.
The billboard says: "SCEC teachers have no confidence in Superintendent Michael Harding."
Harding, who was in meetings most of the day responded by email shortly before a 6 p.m. School Board meeting, saying the East Chicago Federation of Teachers, Local 511 union leadership continues to have difficulty accepting change and the need for transforming the schools and school district toward positive achievement and accountability for performance.
"The School City of East Chicago has many outstanding and committed teachers who have been part of this process as well as numerous support service personnel, school administrators and community partners. These groups have centered and will continue concentrating on student academic achievement and school improvement," Harding said.
"The East Chicago Federation of Teachers, Local 511 union leadership might better use time, energy and resources directly focused on these goals in a more genuine cooperative and collaborative effort with the school district," Harding said. "The school system will continue to work diligently in all educational services for the betterment of students, families and the broader East Chicago community."
John Zarlengo, president of the East Chicago Federation of Teachers Local AFT 511, said the billboard will be up for seven weeks. He declined to say what the union paid for the space.
"We believe that the way in which the superintendent has provided leadership in the district has decreased the morale of teachers in East Chicago," Zarlengo said. "His programs and policies have hurt the education of children in East Chicago."
For example, Zarlengo said more than a year ago, many of the guidance counselors were removed for students in grades seven through 12. "There was only one guidance counselor left at the high school, having to serve more than 1,300 students at the high school and 600 or so at the junior high," he said.
Zarlengo said teachers pushed for guidance counselors to be replaced and he said it took more than a year before guidance counselors were returned to secondary school buildings. "That's just one example of how his (Harding's) policies have affected kids," Zarlengo said.
Late last year, the union released a statement saying the 2012 executive council of the teachers union voted unanimously Nov. 30 that it had "no confidence" in Harding as superintendent.
In a separate vote, the council authorized a "no confidence" secret ballot vote for teachers and other nonadministrative school employees in early December. It also formed a committee to initiate further actions, which resulted in the billboard.
In the press release, Zarlengo said teachers believe there is widespread discontent and a lack of confidence in the superintendent not only among district staff, but also in the community. The release said Harding’s programs and lack of communication have had a negative effect on children and staff in East Chicago schools.
Therefore, the teachers and other school employees are joining efforts with community sectors that have expressed discontent with the superintendent to give the School Board information so it can make decisions regarding the children of East Chicago, the release said.
Harding became superintendent of the School City of East Chicago in August 2009. His contract concludes August 2014.